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Debate On Gender Difference Sociology Essay

From the moment we born, people have already been attributed as male or female, which is classified by our biological differences of body. However, there are other characteristic, e.g. mental, social definitions of sexes, for dividing us into masculine or feminine. From the past to present, gender difference has long been a debatable topic in our society. Different approaches, mainly essentialism and constructionism, have different view on the origin of gender different. The main debate is that whether gender differences are socially constructed or derive from biological differences. In the following, I will first look back the essentialist and constructionist debate on the issue of gender difference. Then, whether gender is socially constructed in the aspect of family, education and mass media will be argued.

For essentialist, it is agreed that gender differences are of an intrinsic of nature, which is related to psychological and physical differences of our body. Determined by different genes and hormones, everyone have their own particular features and attributes. That means that people are born either women or men, which depends on whether they have penis or vagina. Besides, it is argued that gender differences are propelled by natural force which resulted in inequalities between male and female. As men and women are born to be fundamentally different, it is impossible to have an equal society root and branch.

Oppositely, the constructionist thinks that the gender roles are created culturally instead of biologically. They argued that gender roles are culturally resulted as our emotion, action, desire and relationships with others are affected by the society and people. As we interact with others every day, we will learn what the society expects for male and female. Through gender socialization, feminine or masculine roles will be taught to the children by various social institutions, e.g. family, region, law and so on. It is claimed that when an infant is born, gender socialization starts. We are doing gender through socially guided activities which shapes our perception of masculinity or femininity.

For example, in our society, most of the women are allowed to wear dresses and high heels. While for men having this kind of dressing, they will be classified as abnormal. For this situation, the constructionist will argue that because of the society, it is socially acceptable for women to wear dresses and high heels. The society has a norm that women are allowed to have this kind of dressing and this concept shaped our mind. However, for essentialist, they will argue that it is due to the women’s biological organ, women are normal for wearing dress and high heel. Instead of social construction, the distinctive biological dissimilarity of body create these differences.

From the above, it is known that there is a fierce debate on whether gender is of biological differences or is socially constructed among essentialist and constructionist. To a larger extend, it is thought that gender is socially constructed. As we are living in a society that we interact with others every day, it is undeniable that gender socialization is happened to us from child to adult. In other words, both Masculinity and femininity is the result of socialization. Thus, this implies that society creates gender role and differences, which is consistent with the view of constructionist. In the following, I will explain how the gender is socially constructed by various agents, including family, education and mass media.

From Lindsey (2011), Family is the most crucial primary socialization agent for children since first knowledge and value are learnt. Kimmel, 2011 also claimed that Gender socialization have begun when we born. It is believed that families have the power to affect individual’s emotion, behaviors and values. So, during the process of growing of children, they will learn to understand their own gender. Norms and customs of different genders are learnt from parent primarily. When we are small, our parents encourage acts that are consistent with the norm of our gender and prevent us from doing some behavior that are of the opposite gender. For instance, girls are encouraged to play doll while boys are encouraged to play gun.

For constructing gender of children by family, there are mainly four ways which is proposed by Ann Oakley. Manipulation is one of the ways that parent encourage behaviors that are appeared to be normal for the children’s gender. For example, boys are encouraged to join basketball practice while discouraged from joining ballet lessons. The second one, canalization, is that parent guides the children’s interest to the activities of their gender. One example is that girls are guided to play cooking sets. Verbal appellation which means that children’s gender are constructed through naming them. “Cute girl, don’t be so rude.” is an apparent verbal expression which teaches the children appropriate act of their gender. The final method is by different activities. Parents usually arrange girls take part in indoor domestic activities while boys take part in outdoor activities.

According social learning theory, it is stated that people learn the social behavior primarily by observing and imitating others behavior when they are young. Children spend most of their time at home with their parent which they may learn the gender role from them by observing. A recent research done by Charles (2002) supports this point. It shows that family have a gender stereotype that males generally work outside and females have caring roles. This implies that boys and girls learn this kind of role from observing their father’s and mother’s behavior.

In addition to family, education also plays a key role in constructing gender identity. School is a place that children are having second stage of socialization. It is clear that children spend most of the time at school after the age of three. So, Formal schooling provides a major medium for children to learn and reinforce the cultural expectations for males and females (Finn et al. 1980; Lee et al., 1994).

At school, there is different treatment toward girls and boy. Teachers play a role in socializing girls towards femininity while boys toward masculinity as there must be interaction between teachers and students. From the words of the teacher, it already instills some gender characteristic for the students. For instance, girls are lauded for quiet and elegant, whereas boys are praised for active or speaking up by teachers. Clearly, role or norms of gender are shaped in this approach. Moreover, the content of textbooks or literature that is taught in the classroom may have some knowledge related to gender role. Some literatures with masculine pronoun or history that determined that role of men influence them as it may be the role models which are looking up. Besides, some gender roles are also distinguished from the curriculum. It is known that the curriculum is still different for girls and boys in some developing countries. For the case of Uganda, girls are receiving more knowledge related to family life and home while boys get information of sports or productive still. (Mirembe & Davies, as cited in 9789241596435_eng, 2001)

Another aspect of education which helps shaping the gender roles is the playground activities. Playground is a place that clearly distinguishes the gender role. For boys, they usually participate in sport game actively. For girls, they would have some social activities or indoor activities. Schools are made up of students with similar age and status. It is common to see that children with same gender play together. In this stage, children have already developed a much intense consciousness of gender identity. Thus, it will soon closure into a more rigid gender roles.

From the above, we know that education is also one of agents which the gender constructed socially. Media contribute significantly to construction of gender in our early life. Media are the diversified media technologies that are tried to gain a large audience by mass communication. There are various kind of media, including broadcast, print, outdoor, internet, etc. Throne (1993) claimed that gender role stereotypes are often internalized by children from the media, especially television. Moreover, research done by Anderson, 1986 also shows that television influence children’s lives greatly.

For teenagers, popular television drama and magazines help them develop and sustain the lifestyle of their gender through photos or dialogue. Prevalent gender ideologies or characteristics which imply gender differences are transmitted to the adolescent visually and verbally in the media. (Tinkler, 1995) For example, we seldom see male nurse in the television drama. In nowadays, since we have assumed that women are much more caring and benevolent to men, female are more suitable than male to be nurse. Again, gender differences can also be shown in the media which socially constructed the gender identity among male and female. Moreover, adolescents tend to share what they have read and saw through the media. By interaction between youngster, gender are constructed collaboratively. Moreover, it is claimed that presented gender behavior in images by music or movies help adolescents to take the idea of what meant to be a men or women. (Greenberg et al., as cited in d, 1986)

When it comes to the media, gender stereotype are also found in different media, especially in propaganda. It is a powerful agent which affects our attitudes, beliefs and the values that we are of ourselves, others and the world. (1018899522353.pdf

) It is not difficult to find female or male stereotype among the news, magazines or on television. For example, advertisements promoting slimming programme and plastic surgery are found everywhere in Hong Kong, from magazine to MTR’s advertisement board. Models in the propagandas are stereotyped that women should be slim, beautiful and with big breast. There are also some advertisements promoting masculinity among men. Muscular and powerful are the male characteristics which are stereotyped too. It is found that male characters were presented as a valued role model, but it were ” supermasculine” with personal feature of aggression. (Peevers, as cited in mass media and gender, 1987). In most of the film, men are usually engaged in violent scenes of rape and kill. (Nelson, as cite in mass media and gender, 1985) This shown both good and bad men is aggressive. For instance, in film of Batman, Batman has an image that he is powerful, muscular, and aggressive in killing the bad guys. This creates gender stereotype. As children or adolescent is easily access to these kinds of film, this kind of stereotype are easily instill in their mind which are process of gender construction. As a result, this kind of gender stereotype may change or shape the children’s view toward gender, which affect them constructing their gender.

From the above, it is clear that gender is socially constructed through family, education and mass media. Besides, many socialization agents who are not mentioned play a role in shaping our gender identity. To a larger extend, it is thought that gender is socially constructed instead of biologically construct. Since we are exposed to different socialization agents every day and everywhere, it is impossible to say that we haven’t affected by the society. Famous sociologist George Herbert Mead also claimed that the self-identity is not present when we were first born, instead, it is developed with social experience.


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